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Monday, December 12, 2011

Balancing Act Part II

Have you ever walked down the street and seen woman after woman in either black or some version of oatmeal? Have you ever heard (or said yourself), "I always wear black because it's slimming." Have you ever been confused about what colors go well together? If you answered, "Yes" to any of these, honey, this post is for you.

Color is a funny thing. It evokes emotion. It flatters or, well, unflatters. It can highlight or contour just like in a painting. Some people have a gift to understand what looks best not only on them but also how to combine colors to create a polished outfit. It's not rocket science, it's color theory. And, while some folks have an innate understanding, color theory is something that can be learned easily.

The best place to start - the color wheel:

Basic lesson that you probably remember from lower school art class. Red, yellow, and blue are primary colors. Orange, violet (purple, people), and green are secondary. The rest are blends of their neighboring colors, thus becoming tertiary, etc colors.

Now, look at the color wheel. Now, back at me. Now, at the color wheel. (Sorry, I couldn't help myself.) The colors that are directly across from each other on the color wheel are called complementary colors. For example, blue and orange are complementary. Violet and yellow. Red-violet (magenta) and yellow-green (lime green). You get the idea. Remember, this because I'm coming back to it in a bit.

Looking at the color wheel again, look at a specific color. Let's say blue. Now look at it's neighboring colors. Blue-violet (indigo) and blue-green (turquoise). These three colors are called analogous. Anytime you combine colors that are neighbors on the color wheel you are using analogous colors and creating a monochromatic color scheme.

And, what about those neutrals?

That's right, you don't see neutrals like black, white, and grey on the color wheel because they are achromatic. Simply put, they are colors without color, but rather variations on lightness and dark.

Okay, enough already with the art lesson. Let's talk clothes!

Just like the shape of your outfit needs balance, so does your color palette. So, we will discuss three things: neutrals and pseudo-neutrals, monochromatic outfits, what is actually slimming, and using complimentary colors to make an outfit pop.

Everybody's Favorite: Neutrals (and don't forget the pseudo-neutrals too!)

Neutrals are great. They go with anything. Any color. Any pattern. They are the workhorses in our closet. When building a wardrobe, they are the starting point.

Standard neutrals: khaki (we've discussed), navy, black, and white.

These are all fine colors especially in classic pieces. Think trousers, pencil skirts, a cashmere sweater. These can all become the backbone to an outfit.

Neutral and color: Black pencil skirt + yellow sweater

Neutral on neutral: Black cigarette pants + camel (another version of khaki) sweater:

Both the sweater and the pants are neutrals. She could just have easily paired them with a brighter color, and this is why neutrals are great. You get a lot of wear out of them. Of course, good fit is a must.

I'm going to confess something to you. I don't own anything khaki. Not a single thing. But, khaki, you say, is a neutral! It goes with everything! This is true, but it is a terrible color for my complexion. It makes me look washed out. Why am I telling you this? Because neutrals are no different than any other color. There are those that look lovely against your skin, and those that don't. If you don't look good in a color-for the love of God-don't wear it! 

What are my other choices?

Pseudo-neutrals: brown, olive green, grey, and denim blue. That's right, jeans are neutrals. Currently also includes mustard, teal, aubergine.

These colors are softer on the skin tone and can include trendy colors such as mustard, teal and aubergine. Personally, I love these colors. I find them more wearable and flattering than the standard neutrals.

Pseudo neutral and a bright color:

A lovely mustard (it's the new khaki!) skirt and a mint green tank with an oatmeal cardi. Neutral, but polished. Nothing boring here. Notice that her accessories (belt and necklace) really stand out with this.

Pseudo neutral on pseudo neutral (sounds kinda kinky, doesn't it?)

This casual outfit is using two pseudo-neutrals to create an eye pleasing palette. Olive green and raisin (a warmer version of aubergine). She could have easily paired teal in place of the raisin, or grey for the olive green.

Lesson summary for neutrals and pseudos? They go with anything. Each other. A bright color. It's all good.  Just keep the outfit balanced with regard to shape and you can't go wrong.

Monochromatic Chic:

Choosing to dress in one color from head to toe is tricky. Get it wrong and you are a fashion don't. Get it right and you will turn heads in the best way possible. Put together and elegant. You can do this look with any color. ANY. COLOR. I'm showing black and white outfits, but you can do red, purple, blue, green, grey, literally the list is endless. 

In white:

An all white ensemble. White blouse, white pants. Very simple with respect to color. Let's talk about what makes this outfit stunning rather than boring. Firstly, and most importantly, fit. The impeccable fit of the blouse and pants make this a win. Secondly, when you are going to wear a monochromatic outfit, you need to remember that your accessories are going to be what people see first. Her hat. Her thin brown belt. Her gold bracelets. Simple little details that pull a neutral outfit together.

Now in black:

An all black ensemble.  Again, black pants, black shoes, black jacket, black purse. And, yes, again, fit is the centerpiece to the outfit. Everything is balanced and proportioned. She has on no accessories to speak of, but there is one item that adds visual interest. It's the one exception to the monochromatic black-the shirt, and that's what makes the outfit. She has used a shirt that is achromatic-black and white. But, just like the belt/hat/bracelets in the white outfit above, the pattern breaks up the monochromatic look and draws the eye to a specific point.

So, my point? Monochromatic looks are fine (and can be unbelievably chic!) as long as you make sure the fit is impeccable and you have a focal point-whether it is a patterned shirt or accessories-to add visual interest. If you skip the fit part of this rule, you look like a lumpy, blobular mess. If you skip the focal point, do you know what this color palette says? "Don't look at me. I'm invisible." Either way, it's not good.

Is black the only slimming color?

Oh, heck no! Here's the deal, my lovelies. Dark colors recede, light colors advance. In other words, ALL dark colors are slimming, and ALL lighter colors add volume. How do you use this to your advantage? 

Want to minimize your hips? Wear dark colors on your bottom half!

Notice that her hips and thighs appear smaller than her top, and yet she is wearing dark red pants, NOT black!

Want to play down a larger bust? You guessed it, wear a dark color on your top half!

Photo courtesy of surely sonsy

What a great outfit! She has used a gorgeous indigo top that minimizes her bust, defined her tiny waist with a belt, and balanced the outfit with light colored walking shorts. Kudos! 

So, please, ladies, do us all a favor and wear color, not just black when you want to create a slimming silhouette. You'll look less like a funeral director and feel less like one too!

Making it pop:

We all have our favorite colors. You know the great thing about your favorite colors? Nine times out of ten they're the colors that look great on you. For instance, I'm a red head with one green eye and one brown and very fair skin with a neutral undertone (means it has cool tones and warm tones). My favorite colors are (and have been since I was a teenager) are greens, turquoise/teals, and purples. I am drawn to them. They make me feel happy. I decorate my house with them. Guess what? They contrast beautifully with my hair and skin and make my eyes really sparkle. They are my go to colors.

I bet you have colors that you feel the same about. Not neutrals, but colors that just make you happy. I am also willing to bet these are the colors that look great on you.

This does not mean I dress in head to toe turquoise. But, I do use it to make an outfit stand out. It is my accent color. Wearing olive green trousers and a cream top? My accessories are turquoise. Wearing a turquoise dress? How about a pair of purple shoes?

If you look at the color wheel, you will notice that while these colors are not precisely across from each other on the wheel, they are approximately across from each other. Hence, they behave like complementary colors. Adding contrast and depth to an outfit.

Orange, mint, and blue:

Orange is a strong color, so to temper it she is wearing mint green and a blue shirt. Yes, it's three colors, but because of the complementary nature of the colors, it looks great.

Green and turquoise:

Again, it's the contrast of colors that make this special. It's not overwhelming, but fun and probably speaks to the individual who chose it.

The great thing about contrasting colors is that even when you are wearing a neutral color, it enables you to put a splash of flattering shade near your face.  That color then reflects into eyes, shows off your skin, and the highlights in your hair. My advise? Unless you are doing the monochromatic thing, always, always, always have color near your face. You'll feel happier and look great.

Let's sum up:

Neutrals and pseudo neutrals are great for classic wardrobe pieces and pairing with another neutral or a bright color.

Monochromatic looks are elegant and chic, but pay extra attention to fit and your accessories.

A pop of your favorite color can take an outfit from ho-hum to fabulous by contrasting both with the rest of your outfit as well as complimenting your skin, hair and eyes. 

Whew! That was a lot! Let's keep it simple for our tasty lusciousness.

When I am tired, I fall back to Asian food. It's tasty, fast, and I always have the ingredients on hand. So, I made tonkatsu, Japanese style pork cutlets served with shredded napa cabbage steamed rice and sesame dressing. Oiishimas-desu!


1 pork tenderloin, 1 inch slices pounded thin

3 eggs, beaten

Panko bread crumbs

Vegetable oil

Heat oil in large pan over medium high heat. Dredge tenderloin slices in egg, then in panko crumbs. Repeat. Cook in oil until golden brown on both sides.

Cabbage and Dressing:

1 head napa cabbage, sliced very thin

Now for the dressing, we buy ours from a local Asian market, and it looks like this.

I wish I could tell you what kind it is, but I cannot read Japanese (on my bucket list!). It is the same kind we had when we visited Japan. If you cannot find this, most commercial sesame dressings are fine. 

Last but not least, the steamed rice. Do NOT use American style boiled rice. It's a blasphemy. Jasmine rice or short grain Japanese rice is great, and can be found in most supermarkets. And, steam the rice! We use a rice cooker and add a teaspoon of sesame oil to give it that perfect moistness.

If you made it all the way to the end of this post-high five! 'Cause, I mean, damn! That was a lot of info. I'm pouring a glass of wine, my lovely, you do the same.



  1. Wow.. This was good timing for me considering I just finished light and color theory for photography :)) I am way involved with the color wheel now! That was a great post.. and all that and a Tonkatsu!!! GO girl!!

  2. Glad you liked it! The color theory part was just a brief smattering of what I learned in art class, but enough to get people thinking hopefully. Thanks for the encouragement!

  3. I cannot describe how much I enjoyed reading this column! Information here is useful and practical. I am going to study my color wheel. Thank you!!